It was easy to forget, 593 days later, how much had changed since the last time more than a smattering of fans were allowed into FedEx Field. The Washington Football Team that practiced on its home turf Friday night bore little resemblance to the team fans were last able to watch at home — new name, new coach and new stars.
The stands, though, were filled with little reminders of the past. Many of the roughly 10,000 fans wore gear with the team’s old name, but the familiar color scheme made it difficult to distinguish old from new. The crowd might have felt similar, in size and volume, to the ones from late 2019, when two decades of decay reached rock bottom, but to those who came out, it felt, somehow, different.
“I can’t even compare it to 2019 because I’m just so happy to be out and about,” said Melissa Cooper, 48, a Lanham native who grew up coming to games with her grandfather.
Now she brings her daughter and hopes Coach Ron Rivera and defensive end Chase Young, her favorite player, can restore the franchise to the Super Bowl glory she saw growing up.
In his post-practice news conference, Rivera said it’s imperative to win back the fans.
One of the people he was talking about was 40-year-old Joel Nesbit, who drove from York, Pa., to attend his first Washington football event in a decade. He called Rivera the franchise’s best hire since Joe Gibbs, and though he’s still wary of what the new name will be, he admitted change might be good.
“It might spark something,” he said. “Maybe that’s what this franchise needs.”
Here’s what you need to know from Friday’s practice:
Nine players did not practice, including Kyle Allen, who is dealing with a left ankle injury, and wide receiver Kelvin Harmon, who tweaked the knee he had surgically repaired last year. Cornerback William Jackson III also did not practice and instead stood on the sideline in street clothes with a wrap on his right leg. Rivera said he suffered a quad contusion.
The others who were sidelined: defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis (working back from the reserve/covid-19 list), left tackle Charles Leno Jr. (excused/personal matter), tight end Sammis Reyes (knee), defensive ends Shaka Toney and Casey Toohill, and interior offensive lineman Keith Ismael.
Torry McTyer, a fifth-year cornerback who signed a reserve/futures contract in January, has become a player to watch in camp. While working primarily with the second- and third-team defenses, McTyer has broken up multiple passes during team drills and during one-on-ones against receivers. On Friday, he had two pass breakups.
“He’s got our interest, and we’re looking forward to seeing him when we play in our preseason game,” Rivera said. “... He’s shown the ability to really stay with a receiver, especially at the top end of the route. He anticipates well, he’s got good hands, and he makes plays on the ball. That’s one thing you really look for in those guys. But we’ll see when the pads come on.”
Terry McLaurin vs. Kendall Fuller was a must-watch. With Jackson sidelined, rookie cornerback Benjamin St-Juste worked with the starters at cornerback in 11-on-11s. On the other side was Fuller, the versatile veteran who has played nearly every spot in the secondary. Fuller was matched in press coverage with McLaurin, and much like McLaurin’s battles with Jackson, these did not disappoint.
McLaurin brought the crowd to its feet when he dived for a 30-plus-yard catch on a go route with Fuller glued to his hip.
Rivera has praised Jon Bostic for his leadership and his work with first-round pick Jamin Davis. But Bostic said he tries to mentor all rookies and share the many tips he received from veterans such as Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman during his early years in the NFL.
“I’m talking to all guys,” Bostic said. “One of the first things I’m talking to them about is saving money, because some of these guys, it’s the first time they actually have a little money in their pocket and they don’t understand taxes and how fast some of these things go, especially in this area that we’re in. You get taxed pretty good. But there are little things that I’ve learned.”
Although the stadium was far from full — the team made 20,000 free tickets available in the lower bowl and 5,000 more at the club level — the return of fans caught the attention of some of Washington’s youngest players, Rivera said. Especially those who went to smaller schools.
For Jaret Patterson, the team’s lone undrafted rookie, being on the field had even more meaning. Patterson played at the University at Buffalo but grew up a few miles from FedEx Field and was an avid fan of the team. His parents, Janine and Leroy Patterson, often took their kids to FedEx Field to watch games. This time, they sat in Section 301 to watch their son vie for a roster spot.
“It was really neat to watch some of these guys react,” Rivera said. “You could see some of the energy, you really could. Some of the guys fed off it, and that’s what you’re looking for.”
Friday’s practice was Ryan Fitzpatrick’s first time playing at FedEx Field. The 16-year veteran has faced Washington seven times, but all were home games for his teams.
What to read about the Washington Commanders
Exclusive: An employee of Washington’s NFL team accused Commanders owner Daniel Snyder of asking for sex, groping her and attempting to remove her clothes, according to legal correspondence obtained by The Post. A team investigation concluded the woman was lying in an attempt to extort Snyder.
Capitol Hill: Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, announced that the committee intends to issue a subpoena to compel the testimony of Snyder.
Kevin B. Blackistone: If NFL players care about social justice, why haven’t they rebuked the Commanders’ defensive coordinator?
Penalized: The NFL fined Commanders head coach Ron Rivera $100,000 and docked the team two OTA practices in 2023 for excessive hitting during their offseason program this year, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.